Human Brain Project: bureaucratic success despite scientific failure

Human Brain Project: bureaucratic success despite scientific failure

The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) has passed its midterm evaluation with flying colours. Noone knows exactly what the objectives of this bombastic project is, as members of the evaluation panel indicated to me, while others refused to answer this question. The HBP leadership sure keeps the exact definition of these objectives secret, or maybe they don’t know them themselves. Which is easy to understand, because given the leniency HBP keeps receiving from those supposed to evaluate it, its real objective becomes perfectly clear: to secure the public funding. There, HBP succeeded indeed, the €1 Billion seems rather safe. It is none of the public’s business where the money will go, but it can rest assured it will certainly go somewhere. The public should also not expect any deliverables or return on its research investment, this the HBP leadership already made perfectly clear. I am showing below what a farce the recent HBP evaluations were, while the positive outcome was much hailed as evidence for excellent scientific performance.  Continue reading “Human Brain Project: bureaucratic success despite scientific failure”

The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg

The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg

On March 8, an international scientific review board will be evaluating the research at the French CNRS Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg. This is the place where the former star (and now misconduct-tainted pariah) of plant sciences Olivier Voinnet shot to fame, where his main lab operated since 2002 until he was taken away control over it in 2015, after found guilty of massive data manipulations in many papers by his employers CNRS and ETH Zürich (see my various reports here). The Voinnet lab in Strasbourg had since been led by his right-hand man, Patrice Dunoyer, first author on 3 retracted papers, who also admitted his own data manipulations in several more instances (most recent Voinnet/Dunoyer retraction and correction list here). A serious institute might have reconsidered collaborating with such a questionable scientist as Dunoyer, not so CNRS and its IBMP (which is actually just as fair, because also the Swiss ETH kept his boss Voinnet as their professor). Dunoyer was only punished by a one-month suspension back then in 2015, to CNRS leadership he seems to be a perfect scientist to lead a research lab in this plant science institute. Indeed, Dunoyer is apparently well integrated at IBMP: on March 8th the review board will not only be judging his scientific performance, but also that of his several IBMP colleagues whose publications were also flagged for data integrity concerns on PubPeer, e.g. Christophe Ritzenthaler, Véronique Ziegler-Graff and Pascal Genschik. Incidentally, IBMP invited as review committee members such international scientists who will be well able to understand this delicate matter, because, like for example Martin Crespi, director of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Paris-Saclay, or Serge Delrot, professor at University of Bordeaux, their own publications were reported on PubPeer for serious data integrity concerns as well. One could quip here: it takes one to know one. Continue reading “The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg”

Growing hearts in Hannover: a job opening

The Medical University of Hannover (MHH) in the German Lower Saxony is searching to recruit a professor who can grow human heart tissue from stem cells (see official call here). If you think you are the right kind of miracle doctor, you must hurry to apply: the deadline is August 26th 2016.

The recruiting MHH department is the clinic for heart, thorax, transplant and vascular surgery and its subdivision of the Leibniz Research Laboratories for Biotechnology and Artificial Organs (LEBAO). LEBAO was established by the heart surgeon and clinic head Axel Haverich, whose goals included creating stem cell-derived organs such as tracheas (hence the transient recruitment of the now disgraced thorax surgeon Paolo Macchiarini to his MHH department at the beginning of the century). Both Macchiarini’s and Haverich’s main objective was to grow a living human heart in a plastic box inside tissue culture incubator (the contraption is also known under the more fancy term “bioreactor”). In fact, Haverich repeatedly predicted to be able to achieve this even before his upcoming retirement (see my report here). The method was originally supposed to be that of stripping dead donor hearts of living tissue and seeding these carcasses with “magic” bone marrow stem cells. Later on, Haverich imagined it more high-tech: 3D laser printers would shoot cells of various types into a shape of a heart, and voila, it would come alive and start beating, ready to save another human life. Continue reading “Growing hearts in Hannover: a job opening”

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

Times Higher Education recently reported about an online survey on research integrity of British scientists. The study was performed and evaluated by Joanna Williams and David Roberts, two scientists at the University of Kent (their full report here). Interestingly, they not only assessed scientists’ own self-reported research misconduct (this being a topic where scientists tend to be less than perfectly honest), but also the so-called “unmatched count”, which “allows respondents to indicate malpractice without specifically implicating themselves”.  The sad, but hardly surprising results: one fifth of the respondents acknowledged having fabricated their research data, one out of seven admitted committing plagiarism, and more than a third “reported having published extracts from the same piece in more than one location”.

Self-plagiarism is a convenient tool to boost one’s publication record without doing any proper additional research.  This is why many academics see extensive copy-pasting of one’s previously published text as a form of misconduct. Of note, this behaviour has nothing to do with occasional repetition of standard formulations or methods descriptions. However, when I reported in April 2016 about certain excessive cases of self-plagiarism, some of my readers strongly disagreed these were anywhere near research misconduct. They showed a more relaxed attitude to self-plagiarism, especially where literature reviews were concerned. Many even reject the term, and prefer to speak of ‘text re-use’, for the purpose of spreading own knowledge and ideas to reach wider masses. From this perspective, which many journal editors seem to share, exact double-publishing of the same review or opinion paper is still frowned upon, but it is enough to introduce some additional paragraphs or a slightest modification of focus to avoid a retraction. Continue reading “Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?”

Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism

Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism

Bruno Lemaitre is professor at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, where he works on insect immunity. He is also a personal friend of mine, this is one of the reasons I wish to introduce here his new book on narcissism in science. Disclaimer: I also received a one-time payment from Bruno for my help with the text and editing of his book, titled: An Essay on Science and Narcissism: How do high-ego personalities drive research in life sciences?”

The book and its order options are introduced on Bruno Lemaitre’s website.

Lemaitre’s discovery of the Toll-receptor won the 2011 Nobel Prize, which however was awarded not to him, but to his former boss, Jules Hoffman (who apparently used to be rather disinterested in Lemaitre work in his lab, until he understood the impact of Lemaitre’s findings). This conflict was reported in media (e., in Science), also Lemaitre himself addressed it on his personal blog “Behind Discoveries”.

This experience, and his later observations, likely prompted Lemaitre to study the prevalence of narcissistic personalities among our science elites. Indeed, anyone who ever worked in academia was likely directly affected by the arrogance, power games and ruthless “networking” there, which push aside actual scientific competence and even research integrity, to allow those with lowest scruples and highest ambitions to climb the academic career ladder. According to Lemaitre, narcissism can be briefly described as the propensity to “get ahead” rather than to “get along”. Narcissists are only concerned about their own self-advancement and self-promotion and have little regard for the rules of social interaction. At the same time, their inflated confidence allows narcissistic researchers to radiate professional competence, knowledge and leadership, while their “meticulous” colleagues struggle with the imposter syndrome.  Finally, while narcissists strive for personal power and dominance, they are actually very good in manipulative networking and even sycophantic Macchiavelism towards senior influential figures, all with the goal to advance their careers. Narcissism is a character trait, and is probably only in small part bestowed secondarily by the acquired institutional position: the abusive narcissistic professors of today used to be career-minded narcissistic students in their past. Continue reading “Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism”

Is EMBO funding misconduct?

This is a NEWS post.

My Twitter feed recently showed that the highly respected European research organisation, EMBO, is funding a scientist directly associated with possible misconduct and data manipulation.

EMBO has announced on December 8th: Nine scientists receive EMBO Installation Grants, each of the nine recipients is also to obtain the prestigious title of EMBO Young Investigator.

The problematic scientist in question is the Portuguese Sónia Melo, with research interest in “Exosomes in intra-tumor heterogeneity”. She is returning to Europe from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, US, and is to receive from EMBO the funding of ” 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years” for her new lab in University of Porto, Portugal.

Indeed, Melo’s publication list is stellar, her sheer impact factor justifies every possible research grant. Or does it? Are image duplications any kind of concern for EMBO, especially those strangely rotated and flipped ones, which can very unlikely happen due to negligence or technical error? Continue reading “Is EMBO funding misconduct?”

Open Science, Open Scientists

Open Science, Open Scientists

On the evening of December 5th, I participated at the OpenCon Satellite Event in Berlin. It was organised by Jon Tennant and Peter Grabitz, my travelling was kindly subsidised by Stephanie Dawson on behalf of the publisher ScienceOpen.

First of all, I am glad that it is now understood that Open Access (OA) is not a final goal in itself, but the first key step to achieve reliable and transparent academic research. Open Science is about more than just open access to scientific literature. It is even more that openness of published data. It is about the openness of the entire research and the researchers. Academic research is riddled with back-room dealings and hidden conflicts of interests at peer reviews and scientist evaluations as well as with irreproducibility of published results, unacceptably widespread over- or even false interpretation of experimental data and even misconduct. Opening scientific literature without changing what is actually being published, without addressing the way how science is performed and presented, and how scientists are evaluated, could easily result in the OA revolution being hijacked by utterly wrong people. The currently hotly debated issue of predatory publishing and the scientists involved therein is just one example to be named here.

It is good therefore, that Open Science meeting and workshops involving young scientists and activists take place. Continue reading “Open Science, Open Scientists”